Family law settlement agreements, known as marital settlement agreements, are interpreted just like any other contract. For this reason it is just as important to have an attorney involved with the drafting of the marital settlement agreement as with any other important life contract. In one recent example of ambiguous drafting the appellate courts had to determine what was meant. The parties had included in their agreement the following language: “[t]he Husband shall pay child support for the benefit of the minor children in the sum of $1,600.00 per month beginning October 1, 2005, and continuing on the 1st day of each month thereafter. The Husband’s support obligation shall terminate or decrease only when there are no minor children because of one of the following events has occurred with regard to the minor children."
This language is common language for marital settlement agreements. However, the parties later disagreed on whether the language meant that the Husband could modify the child support after one child attained majority or after all children attained majority. They had to endure lengthy litigation and expense. Further, both parties risked that the Court would interpret the agreement differently than they had understood it when they entered into the agreement.
Even in an amicable divorce, it is always advisable to have an attorney draft or review your settlement agreement. A simple oversight as outlined above can cause lengthy and expensive litigation in the future.
See, Thompson v. Watts, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D999 (Fla. 1st DCA 2013).
Dustin Michael Butler is an Attorney with Martin Law Firm, P.L., whose practice focuses in Family Law and Civil Litigation. He is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida and the Federal Court for the Middle District of Florida. He primarily practices in Lee County Florida in Cape Coral and Fort Myers, Florida.